A great deal of thought, debate, discussion and analysis has gone into the top side of the upcoming NFL Draft. Who will be picked first? Who should be in the top 5?
With all of the buzz around the first 10 picks and the millions of dollars going their way the remainder of the draft tends to get overlooked. In part this can be attributed to the difficulty most people have in listening to Mike Mayock. (I personally found myself screaming, standing on the bed, and brandishing a firearm at his image on the television almost daily while watching the combine.)
With the signal to noise ration of the top ten being so high, it is time to focus on the fact that every year teams around the NFL get their best draft values from rounds 2-6 where they find the quality role players and the occasional gem.
This draft is very deep in a number of positions: DE, CB, RB and OL - and any number of teams are going to be able to snag themselves an all-pro player at a discount in the later rounds. Here are the ten players who are going to be the best "non-first round" values for the teams that take them.
10) Kory Lichtensteiger C Bowling Green: Has the smarts and technique to be a quality center for a long time at the pro-level. He isn't an outstanding athlete, but he plays hard and mean, and works the interior of the O line well. He has the versatility to move to Guard, but is best playing in the middle where his football IQ shows in calling protections and making blocking changes at the line. With a little development, Lichtensteiger can be the kind of center that improves an O-line from good to great.
9) Carl Nicks OT Nebraska: Nicks needs his own zip code. Dude is HUGE. Nicks is a very raw prospect without a ton of playing experience in college, but has the strength and talent to become an impact player at the pro level if he ends up on a team with a quality line coach. (PLEASE let it be Arizona...) If he makes the move to G until he masters footwork and technique, Nicks could easily become a dominant player on the O line.
8) Dexter Jackson WR Appalachian State: This one is a tale of the tape. Jackson is FAST. He ran great times at the combine and looked smooth in drills. With his speed and mobility Jackson is going to make an appealing 3rd receiver for a lot of teams looking to emulate the success New England had with Wes Welker. He should also provide some excitement in the return game while he polishes his route running. Jackson is reminiscent of a young, less injured Terry Glenn.
7) Cliff Avril DE/OLB Purdue: Does Purdue offer a degree program is OLB/DE conversion? Avril looks poised to join the ranks of productive NFL players to come out of Purdue and switch from DE to OLB for an NFL 3-4. Avril offers the advantage of having played OLB in college before making the switch to end, and was productive at both positions. I doubt he will be a dominant player in the first 3 or 4 years, but he should be good enough to play, and elevate a defense with his solid play and athleticism.
6) Mike Hart RB Michigan: There are a lot of question marks around Hart because of the huge workload he got at Michigan, but the tale of the tape is that there is still some rubber on the tires. Teams looking for an exciting game breaker who is a scoring threat from anywhere on the field should leave now, but for a team that wants a reliable back who secures the ball and can grind out those tough 3rd down and goal line yards could make an investment in Hart and get every penny worth of value. He may never be "exciting" but he could develop into a Curtis Martin type back that will handle the ball 25-30 times a game and push the chains.
5) John Carlson TE Notre Dame: Carlson killed his draft stock at the combine by running a 40 time that is comparable to mine. However, the game film says he is a better player than he is a work out guy. Carlson is the type of TE that can contribute from day one in the passing game with sharp routes and a good eye for getting open. There are plenty of NFL teams that could profit by taking a receiving TE who doesn't disappear in the running game. No one is going to mistake Carlson for Kellen Winslow but they might confuse him for Heath Miller and that ain't bad.
4) Owen Schmitt FB West Virginia: Fullbacks are not making a lot of noise in the league these days, and that isn't going to change when Schmitt gets into the league. Mack Strong and Lorenzo Neal are fine examples of what a FB like Schmitt will bring to the table. He is going to get on the field and make contributions in the running game and on special teams and is the kind of guy who could spend 15 years opening holes and leveling LBs for a reasonable price.
3) Sam Keller QB Nebraska: QBs from Nebraska generally don't get a lot of attention coming into the NFL, but come round 5 Sam Keller probably should. He did a pretty fair job running a pro-style offense and showed good accuracy and the occasional flash of real playmaking talent. Do I think Keller will be the next Tom Brady to waltz out of the late rounds and into a Superbowl? No. But he will be a reliable back-up who can manage an offense and play well enough to win with a little help from the running game. I rate Keller as my #3 value because every team NEEDS a reliable bench guy who can come in and not lose games. Sam can do that.
2) Ahtyba Rubin DT Iowa State: Massive DT who is very solid against the run. Rubin will be able to add value to any team from day one just by putting presence in the middle of the line. Think Booger McFarlane here. Any team that needs to shore up interior run defense can take a big step in that direction with Rubin, and do so at a discount. He's never going to be Albert Haynsworth - but he will be a definite help as a rotation guy on the D line.
1) Trevor Laws DT Notre Dame: This guy has "all-pro" written all over him. How he hasn't gathered any first round buzz is beyond me, especially given the number of teams with holes on their D Line. Laws is strong, relentless, and talented. He fits nearly any scheme, playing with enough strength and leverage to handle assignments at NT in a 3-4 front or playing as a 3-technique UT in a conventional 4-3. Even at the NFL level he is going to be a force to be reckoned with on the interior line. What makes Laws truly scary is that he is a SMART defender, it won't take him long to learn his assignments and be a play maker for whatever team takes him.